Sunday, October 7

The Unimaginative University of Alabama

Complementary Spouse Britt Shirley is a patient, reasonable, handsome man.

Except when the topic of conversation is University of Alabama football.

Bring up the Crimson Tide or Bear Bryant and Britt can be irrational. He gets defensive. He's clearly uncomfortable with facts and statistics that don't sync with his romanticized notion of the football program and its history.

I don't fault Britt for any of this. He's a dyed-in-the-wool fan and I love him for it.

Yesterday I was reminded of how deeply Britt's Alabama fanaticism can run. We were in his car, listening to the Alabama-Houston game on Sirius radio, and the announcer mentioned something about the University of Alabama's Million Dollar Marching Band.

Why do they call it the Million Dollar Marching Band? I asked Britt.

Britt explained that a sportswriter heard the band playing years ago and wrote that they sounded like a million dollars. The name stuck.

I thought about that for a second. It sounded familiar for some reason. Then I remembered why -- Britt had told me that the University of Alabama's nickname, the Crimson Tide, also came from a sportswriter.

Britt also told me, a long time ago, that the team's mascot, the elephant, originally had nothing to do with the University of Alabama. It was the logo of the Alabama-based company that made luggage for the team's equipment in the early 1900s. Over time, the elephant became associated with the football team too.

If Britt is correct about all these things, it means that the University of Alabama didn't develop its own mascot, or devise its own team and marching band names.

I challenged Britt on this. I said the University of Alabama seemed a little unoriginal. I asked how the University of Alabama got its school colors -- how could Britt be sure that a sportswriter didn't suggest them?

Britt clearly didn't like my questions. He said it didn't matter where the names and mascot came from. He said that the Crimson Tide came from an Alabama sportswriter, which invalidates my point.

Finally, he said: At least Alabama doesn't have THREE team names, like Auburn.

My response: Yeah, maybe -- but I'm sure that Auburn chose all three names for itself.

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